Tapping Into Maple

Brandi Cowen
December 31, 2010
Written by
In some parts of the country, the sight of a tapped maple tree dribbling sap into a tin bucket is a promise that spring is on its way.

Canada produces approximately 85 per cent of the global maple syrup supply. According to Statistics Canada, the majority of the country’s maple syrup is produced in Quebec. Smaller scale production also occurs in Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Manitoba. With sugar bushes scattered across so much of the country, maple syrup season is the perfect time to play with an iconic Canadian flavour. If you’re lucky enough to be located near a sugar bush you can even source from a local producer.
maplesyrup
Maple syrup season is the perfect time to play with this iconic Canadian flavour.
Pinpointing the start of maple syrup season, which can last from mid-February through April, isn’t an exact science. When temperatures begin to warm in the spring, enzymes inside the maple tree convert starch (which the tree has stored all winter long) into sugars. During the spring thaw, these sugars mix with water absorbed through the tree roots. This creates a sap rich in vitamins and minerals. Alternating between cold nights and warm days repeatedly freezes and thaws the sap, building up pressure inside the tree to help get this sweet symbol of spring flowing. The tree is then tapped to collect the sap, which is boiled down to make syrup.

According to the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, “As the season progresses, maple syrup’s fructose and glucose levels rise, while its sucrose levels drop slightly. Like the sugars, the levels of other natural compounds present in the maple water also change throughout the season (e.g., amino acids, minerals).” These changes in the sap produce variations in the appearance and taste of the syrup. As the season progresses, the syrup becomes darker and develops a stronger flavour.

When the weather warms and the tree begins to bud, the sap becomes too bitter to turn into syrup, signaling the end of the harvest. The season typically lasts between six and eight weeks.

MAKING THE GRADE
In Canada, maple syrup is classified according to its clarity, density and taste. There are two systems used to evaluate the country’s maple syrup: Canadian grade and Quebec grade. The grade of syrup produced changes throughout the season, as follows:
  • Canada No. 1 Extra Light/Quebec Grade AA syrup is produced at the very beginning of the season. It has a very delicate taste and is light in colour, allowing 75 per cent light transmittance.
  • Canada No. 1 Light/Quebec Grade A syrup is also produced early in the season. The syrup is a pale amber colour and is characterized by a pure, subtle maple flavour. Syrups that transmit 61 to 74 per cent of light are assigned to this category.
  • Canada No. 1 Medium/Quebec Grade B is produced mid-season. This gives the syrup a more pronounced flavour and its rich amber colour, which allows 44 to 60 per cent light transmittance.
  • Canada No. 2 Amber/Quebec Grade C is produced towards the end of the season. It has a strong maple taste and a dark colour that allows 27 to 43 per cent light transmittance.
  • Canada No. 3 Dark/Quebec Grade D syrup is produced at the very end of the season. This syrup has the highest mineral content of all grades and is extremely dark in colour, allowing anywhere from zero to 26 per cent light transmittance. Syrup assigned to this category is used primarily as an ingredient in food processing.
With their widely ranging characteristics, different grades of syrup are best suited for different applications. According to the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association (OMSPA), Canada No. 1 Medium (Quebec Grade B) syrup works well as a glaze and a sweetener. Given its stronger maple flavour, OMSPA recommends Canada No. 2 Amber (Quebec Grade C) syrup for use in baking and as a flavouring agent.

To keep all grades of maple syrup as delicious as the day they were boiled down, OMSPA recommends keeping unopened syrup in a cool dry place. Once opened, syrup should be stored in a tightly sealed container and either refrigerated, or, to best preserve its rich maple flavour, frozen.

SWEETENING THE DEAL
According to www.sucrezmieux.ca , a consumer-oriented website from the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, maple syrup can replace refined or processed sugars. Sugar can generally be replaced with an equal quantity of maple syrup. However, if you’re making the switch, for each cup (250 millilitres) of syrup, reduce the quantity of liquid ingredients in the recipe by approximately one-quarter cup (60 millilitres). Maple syrup can also stand in as a replacement for brown sugar, honey and corn syrup in many types of baking.

The website www.sucrezmieux.ca also reports that on average, a four-tablespoon serving of maple syrup delivers an entire serving of the daily recommended value of manganese. A four-tablespoon serving can further provide 37 per cent of the recommended intake of riboflavin, and smaller quantities of zinc (18 per cent), magnesium (seven per cent), calcium and potassium (five per cent each). In addition, maple sap contains a variety of amino acids, proteins and vitamins that vary from one geographic region to the next.

Recent research reveals that maple syrup is loaded with antioxidants. In March of last year, a researcher at the University of Rhode Island’s College of Pharmacy conducted a study sponsored by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. Doctor Navindra Seeram determined that maple syrup contains more than 20 compounds linked to human health, including 13 antioxidants never before found in maple syrup. The compounds have a variety of anti-bacterial, anti-diabetic and anti-cancer properties.

Those anti-cancer properties were also reported in the April edition of the Journal of Medicinal Food. Researchers from the Université du Québec â Chicoutimi found that Canadian maple syrup inhibits the growth of brain, prostate and lung cancer cells. However, the same can’t be said for all cancers. The study also revealed that maple syrup has only minimal impact on breast cancer cells.

Maple syrup is not just nutritious and delicious; it’s also locally protected. The federal government has established strict guidelines to preserve the country’s maple industry, which pre-dates the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century. Why not make the most of the short but sweet maple syrup season and give your customers a taste of Canadian history. / BJ

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